On July 10, 2012, a Cessna 206 on floats crashed while landing on Beluga Lake, in Homer. The pilot and four passengers departed Anchorage earlier that day on a private flight to Homer for a planned fishing trip the next day. Three of the passengers and the pilot, Joe Griffith, sustained minor injuries in the accident. Passenger and former state legislator Cheryll Heinze was killed.
The NTSB determined the cause of the Beluga Lake accident was “The pilot’s improper evaluation of the weather conditions and his subsequent downwind water landing in gusting wind conditions, which resulted in a nose-over.” For many floatplane pilots, the cause of the accident was all too familiar, echoing similar crashes going back through decades of landings on Alaska’s lakes and rivers.
Jim Lavrakas photo
Safety issues concerning floatplanes and overwater operations are a special consideration in Alaska, but the aviation community is not always willing to acknowledge such issues.
“I have stood before groups and told them, ‘you can’t learn to escape a wreck from a PowerPoint presentation,'” stresses Learn to Return's Brian Horner. But while pilots likely understand that, convincing them to commit the time and money to learn how to get out of the water alive has not been easy for the survival training school.
Learn to Return has trained 17,000 people in underwater egress training courses, the youngest of whom was 8 years old. LTR president Brian Horner describes the lessons learned in these courses as “fragile skills” which is why the company requires its graduates retake them every two years to remain current. He stresses that underwater egress, in particular, is training that can not be learned in a classroom setting and must be experienced in the pool, in circumstances as close to a real crash as possible. He has struggled however to convey the importance of the training to Alaska’s general aviation pilots.
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